UK COVID-19 Update: Immunity 'Fades in Months'

Tim Locke

July 13, 2020

These are the UK coronavirus stories you need to know about today.

COVID-19 Immunity 'Fades in Months'

Patients who have recovered from COVID-19 may lose immunity to the disease within months, similar to the response to the common cold, according to a King's College London led study.

In a preprint, the researchers write: "We suggest that this transient nAb [neutralising antibody] response is a feature shared by both a SARS-CoV-2 infection that causes low disease severity and the circulating seasonal coronaviruses that are associated with common colds. This study has important implications when considering widespread serological testing, Ab [antibody] protection against re-infection with SARS-CoV-2 and the durability of vaccine protection."

Commenting, Professor Mala Maini, professor of viral immunology and consultant physician, UCL, said: "What are the implications of the study?  Even if you’re left with no detectable circulating antibodies, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have no protective immunity because you likely have memory immune cells (B and T cells) that can rapidly kick into action to start up a new immune response if you re-encounter the virus. So you might well get a milder infection."

UK Healthcare Worker Deaths 'Among Highest Globally'

The UK's COVID-19 health and care worker death toll is one of the highest in the world, according to estimates in a report by Amnesty International.

The human rights group said there have been at least 540 health and social worker deaths in England and Wales with Russia highest with 545 health worker deaths.

Amnesty International UK’s Director, Kate Allen, commented: "There appears to have been a catastrophic failure to provide proper PPE and a failure to grapple with the alarmingly high death rates among BAME health workers.

"This crisis is far from over and an independent inquiry into the Government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic is urgently needed."

The Department of Health and Social Care said the findings were not an accurate comparison with other countries.

In Memoriam: Healthcare Workers Who Have Died of COVID-19.

Daily Deaths and Data

Another 148 UK COVID-19 deaths were announced on Saturday, 21 yesterday and 11 today, taking the total to 44,830.

Another 530 positive cases were reported today taking the total UK confirmed cases to 290,133.
 

NHS Case Backlog Needs 'Credible Plan'

The BMA is calling for a "credible plan" to tackle the growing backlog of non-COVID cases in the NHS.

In its report, The hidden impact of COVID-19 on patient care in the NHS in England, the BMA estimates that there were up to 1.5 million fewer elective admissions in April-June,  and up to 2.6 million fewer outpatient attendances. Up to 25,900 fewer patients started cancer treatments.

"Now is the time for a rescue package that will get the NHS back on its feet and put it on a firm footing for the future, one in which staff are properly supported and services are fully funded," BMA Council Chair Chaand Nagpaul said in a statement.

Scotland announced breast cancer screening will resume in August.

Marion O’Neill from Cancer Research UK commented: "Although breast cancer screening has both benefits and harms, we know cancer screening programmes save lives."

Brexit

Brexit preparations are continuing despite COVID-19 and the Home Office has published new immigration rules that will apply from January. Among the included health professions are:

  • Medical practitioners

  • Psychologists

  • Pharmacists

  • Ophthalmic opticians

  • Dental practitioners

  • Medical radiographers

  • Podiatrists

  • Physiotherapists

  • Occupational therapists

  • Speech and language therapists

  • Nurses

  • Midwives

However, the new points-based Health and Care Visa won't cover social care staff.

Deputy Chief Executive of NHS Providers, Saffron Cordery commented: "While conditions for recruiting international staff to the NHS have improved, we continue to be frustrated by the lack of support for our partners in the care sector. The new points-based system is likely to exacerbate the workforce crisis in social care, with the temporary visa route removed and the vast majority of social care professionals, still implied to be 'low skilled', and therefore ineligible to apply for a Tier 2 visa." 

Downing Street said immigration is "not the sole answer" to care staffing problems.

Flare-ups Dealt With 'Swiftly and Silently'

England's Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the Telegraph (paywalled) many local flare-ups are dealt with without being made public. "Each week there are more than 100 local actions taken across the country – some of these will make the news, but many more are swiftly and silently dealt with," he wrote.

Workers at a farm at Mathon near Malvern in Herefordshire are self-isolating after 73 cases were confirmed among crop pickers living in mobile homes based on the AS Green farm.

Katie Spence, Public Health England (PHE) Midlands health protection director, said: "At this phase of the pandemic, we still expect to see cases in the community and within settings where people are closer together, such as workplaces, which is why the Test and Trace system is important, to help us pick up on any potential problems and swiftly to take remedial action to reduce spread."

Yesterday the Observer published a leaked PHE list of 20 parts of England at risk of following Leicester back into lockdown.

Blackburn with Darwen, Sheffield, Bolton, Knowsley, and Carlisle were rated red for their 'daily exceedance score'.

Mask Muddle?

'Clear up the mask muddle' was today's front page Metro headline.

On Friday in the online 'People's PMQs' Boris Johnson said: "We need to be stricter in insisting that people wear face coverings in confined places, where they are meeting people they don’t normally meet."

However, in a BBC TV interview yesterday Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said "I don't think mandatory, no." Overall, he said covering up was "good manners" and: "It's always better to trust people's common sense."

Today Mr Johnson again said people in England "should be wearing" face coverings in shops and that the Government would decide over the coming days if "tools of enforcement" were needed.

Commenting via the Science Media Centre, Prof Linda Bauld, professor of public health, University of Edinburgh, said: "The government is urging people to get back onto public transport and spend money in shops. Both are enclosed environments where physical distancing may not always be possible. It sends out a confusing message to say face coverings are mandatory in one setting but not the other."

She added:"Suggesting it is 'good manners' to wear one is insufficient. Government ministers need to send the simple message that it is expected. The easiest and clearest way to do this would be to make it compulsory to wear a face covering in shops and other enclosed public places, bearing in mind that there are some groups who would be exempt."

Face coverings became compulsory in shops in Scotland today.

Face coverings will become mandatory on public transport in Wales, as it is in the rest of the UK, from July 27. First Minister Mark Drakeford said the decision was taken "for the sake of simplicity and consistency". People won't have to wear face coverings in shops in Wales but advice may change in future if cases rise, he said.

Contrasting Food Findings

Two studies offered different perspectives on young people, food, and eating under lockdown.

The Guardian reported that You-COPE study researchers found almost half of 1507 young people with no previous mental health issues said they had used overeating to cope with their moods.

The paper quotes UCL and Great Ormond Street's Lee Hudson as saying: "I’m particularly concerned about the number of young people in our study who have reported overeating as a way of coping with their low moods during lockdown."

Separately it reported a doubling of cases of children being admitted to hospital in England with malnutrition to 2500 in the first 6 months of 2020.

UK Staying Out of EU Vaccine Deal

The UK won't be joining an EU programme to procure a successful coronavirus vaccine, Matt Hancock said.

He told Times Radio: "We are further ahead than the EU schemes are. We would have joined the EU scheme if they had allowed us also to continue with our own negotiations, but one of the conditions of the scheme was that we would have had to stop our own negotiations and only do them through the European Commission and we weren’t prepared to do that."

Speaking at the National Pharmacy Association today Mr Hancock said the Government has procured enough vaccine for the "biggest flu vaccination programme in history" this year.

See more global coronavirus updates in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.

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